Well this took way too long to come to “press”, and was in fact prompted by a book I saw for sale yesterday, the sequel to the one I’d been intending to review! So I’ll do both together…
These are books produced in the format of comic annuals, in association with The Sun and Help For Heroes. The first came out in 2010 and the newest one appears to have just been released (or at least I hadn’t seen it before now!). Here’s hoping for more… maybe they should reduce the page count and publish them more often… say maybe once a week, with serialised stories?
Lets not get carried away
The biggest relevance these books have to this blog is, of course, the comic strips! In the first book they are in a CGI style similar to that used in the Sun’s old “Striker” football strip. There has been a few blur filters and dramatic angles added to try and capture the frantic nature of battle, but the art style leaves it looking all a bit clinical. And of course by the very nature of this blog I much prefer pen and ink!
Mind you, drawing a convoy of identical vehicles trundling along is an awful lot easier with copy and paste.
Several of the strips provide an overview of large-scale operations, for instance the hunt for the leaders of Al Queda in the Tora Bora caves back when 9/11 was still fresh in everybody’s minds. And the remarkable operation to carry two huge generators to a dam that required the creation of a huge decoy convoy that would take the obvious route and draw fire from the real thing. Other strips however, focus on individual acts of heroism.
The books also contain a lot more information about the forces, Afghanistan and current operations. In the Eagle tradition there is even cutaways!
A guide to current medals.
One of the other great things in this first book is also scans of some of the information cards given to the soldiers on duty. These include what to do if you are separated from your unit, how to deal with possible mines and even a brief guide to Pashto, one of the main languages of Afghanistan.
Real Heroes – Courage Under Fire
The second book is a little different, while the first mainly concentrated on Afghanistan the second takes more of a wider look at British operations around the world, including anti-piracy patrols near Somalia and historical acts of bravery that were recognised with the VC. The articles in the second book seem a lot simpler and less wordy, though. Was it rushed out, or is the association with The Sun showing?
The comic strips are back, but instead of CGI this time they are drawn, with what looks like a vector-based art programme such as Adobe Illustrator or Flash. They certainly capture the intense nature of battle a lot better!
All of the strips this time focus on individual acts of bravery, as in the last book all of them are true. I would have liked some more ‘general’ strips like the last book focusing on giving an overview of large operations, but I suppose the previous book covered most of the important ones and only so much can happen in a year! Several of the strips also feature the hero “talking to camera” about what happened, more like a TV reconstruction. In fact not entirely unlike the reconstructions in the Sun’s “Millies” TV show. To throw an example out there.
I think the third book would do better to introduce the variety of the first in both close looks at individual soldiers and wider looks at operations – perhaps including some from Iraq? A little more variety in colour in the strips would be nice too! (“I can’t win…” mutters the artist).
The VC stories are told with text – there’s only so many that can be fitted in (but of course other books with more detailed accounts abound). A nice range is featured, from one of the very first winners in 1857 to the latest living recipient – Mark Donaldson who rushed back into the line of fire to save a wounded interpreter in 2008.
The interviews with soldiers are a lot more individual this time. Boxes frequently explain things mentioned in the text – here giving a brief look at Douglas Bader. Lame to fame: He picked up sixpence that my granny dropped when she was a WAAF.
Overall these books are interesting, informative, contain all-new UK-originated comic strip work in the Victor tradition, and a pound from every purchase goes to Help for Heroes, you can’t lose!